Mosquito Repellents – Best Options

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Robert Pavlis

DEET is the standard in mosquito repellants. It is both effective and safe, as reported in DEET – Is It Safe? But what are the alternatives? Do natural extracts work as well as DEET? Are there safer man-made products? Are there better natural products? In this blog post I will review the current options that are worth considering.

If you are looking to fend off the Zika virus, check this out: Mosquito Repellents That Work Against Zika

Testing Mosquito Repellents
Testing Mosquito Repellents

 Mosquito Repellents – What Makes a Good?

We already have a product that is both effective and safe – DEET. For a new product to be considered better than the standard it must either be more effective than DEET or it must be safer. If you are worried about diseases like West Nile, then it needs to be at least as effective as DEET – why would you take a chance on a less effective product?

Picaridin (Icaridin)

Picaridin, also called Icaridin, has been sold in the US since 2005. It is as effective as DEET, and at the 20% concentration level it might last slightly longer than 30% DEET. It does not have an odor, and does not dissolve plastic. Unlike DEET it does not irritate skin and eyes. It does not have any known health risks, but testing is not as extensive as for DEET. It is recommended by the World Health Organization.

IR3535

IR3535 has been in use in Europe for over 20 years, but was not registered in the US until 1999. It can irritate eyes, it dissolves some plastics, but it has no other health risks. At the 20% level it is as effective as DEET. It is recommended by the World Health Organization.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (PMD)

PMD is the name given to the active ingredient in oil of lemon Eucalyptus. At 26%, PMD is as effective as 30% DEET, but it only lasts for 4-6 hours, so it needs to be applied more frequently. At 10%, it is only effective for a couple of hours. The manufacturer does not recommend it when there is a high risk of West Nile. It should not be used on children under 3 years of age.

The synthetic version of PMD is less likely to cause a skin allergy than the natural version. PMD is NOT recommended by the World Health Organization.

Natural Oils

Citronella has been discussed in Citronella Plant Keeps Mosquitoes Away. A number of other natural oil products are available commercially, and can be made using home made recipes. The following oils have shown some promise: caster, citronella, cedar, clove, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and soybean.

All of these provide some protection, but none of them provide protection for more than a couple of hours – some for only 30 minutes. They need to be applied frequently.

People are drawn to these natural products, but many of them produce allergic reactions. The table below of known allergens was published by The Environmental Working Group (ref 1).

it is important to understand that these oils have not been tested for their health effects.

Natural does NOT mean safe.

mosquito repellents - allergens of commonly used oils
Allergens of oils used to repel mosquitoes………. From The Environmental Working Group – reference 1

While a number of commercial products exist that contain a mixture of natural oils, none of these have been approved by the agencies I looked at. If you care about remaining disease free, they are not your best choice.

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Other Posts About Mosquitoes?

DEET – Is It Safe?

Mosquito Repelling Devices – Do They Work?

Mosquito Apps for Your Smart Phone – Do They Keep Mosquitoes Away?

Mosquitoes Repelled By Fragrant Plants

Mosquito Repellents That Work Against Zika Virus

References:

1) The Environmental Working Group – Guide to Bug Repellents: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/repellent-chemicals#picaridin

2) EPA pesticide Fact Sheet for Picaridin: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/fs_PC-070705_01-May-05.pdf

3) EPA pesticide Fact Sheet for Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus: http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/fs_PC-011550_01-Apr-00.pdf

4) EPA pesticide Fact Sheet for IR3535: http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/fs_PC-113509_01-Jan-00.pdf

Photo Source: Hospital News Checker

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

24 thoughts on “Mosquito Repellents – Best Options”

  1. DEET works for me but it’s mightily expensive. I grew a large swathe of Nepeta Cataria (catnip) to watch the fun when my neighbours cats visited my gardens. I did some reading on Google scholar and was surprised to see that the oil from the plants had been trialled as a repellent in Africa with some success. I don’t recall the name of the particular compound within the oil that was isolated as the likely candidate for the repellent quality, you will find it if you look.
    Anyway I extracted oil using a small CO2 supercritical machine that I use for other projects 😉 and tried it on one side of my body. It works, the smell I am not keen on at all but it is effective.
    If you want to try it for yourself you could probably get a decent extraction using a home built crude and simple steam distillation apparatus.
    I still get bitten but not so often at all.

    Reply
    • I find DEET to be relatively cheap. Buy as a liquid and only use a bit.

      The extracted oil might work, but how harmful is it? Has it been tested for safety? The toxicity of many of these oil have not been properly tested.

      Reply
  2. Robert, I agree that DEET is probably safe and I use it when buggers are thick. However, if someone says try Avon Skin So Soft, just because there is no science, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. I have tried it and it works for me. However, it is not as good as DEET and who knows, the EPA has probably not even ruled on Skin So Soft because it is a body lotion, not sold as an insect repellent.

    I like science, but sometimes there is no money to have the studies done, so we fall back to empirical evidence. It is works for some people, why not let them say so without shaming them?

    Reply
    • This is a science based web site, and I don’t want people reading incorre3ct information and then leaving and spreading the myth.

      If it works, then there is science to support it. If not, then we don’t know it works.

      Reply
      • Okay Robert. I appreciate the boundaries. A scientific approach to understanding our world is very helpful. No question. And I really appreciate your perspective and website which attempts to put to rest the myths and mis-information. However, science has many definitions, depending on the perspective and agenda of the one using “science”. We’ve all been conditioned from early childhood to just “trust the science”, similar to trusting the priests of other eras. It would be helpful to hear your definition of science. It would help in understanding your boundaries.

        Reply
          • Thank you, Robert. Very helpful and I appreciate the devotion to rigorous scientific inquiry and conclusions. Without it, we are left to following myth and superstition. Your use of the word science in the plural (which I am still not sure is proper grammar) caused me to research the grammatical use of the word, is it plural or singular. That search lead me to a very interesting treatise on the “Grammar of Science” that I found very useful and may be useful to your readers as they sift through our body of knowledge to ascertain what is reliable knowledge and what is myth. https://homepages.abdn.ac.uk/nph120/meteo/Gramsci.pdf

  3. Robert,

    No mention of the old Avon “Skin So Soft”. My anectodal evidence was that it worked. It could be highly toxic, for all we know, but it smelled better and my wife liked it over the DEET bug spray. Any thoughts on that stuff?

    Reply
  4. I’m looking for something to plant in the backyard for mosquito control. I read all the wonders of deet. But are there any practical measures I can take to make my space less desirable to the pests? I have very young grandkids that spend a lot of time with us.

    Our neighbors have an in- ground pool that is not being used. They drained it. But now we’ve had heavy rains the last few weeks. I’m a little freaked out.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    Reply
    • Remove all standing water to stop them breeding. Then remove all vegetation so they have no place to hide during the hot midday sun – including lawn grass. That keeps them away. Clearly the second point is not too practicable if you want a nice garden but it does work. There is nothing you can plant to keep mosquitoes away.

      Reply
  5. I plant Centollia every year works great never ate up by them we shake the plant get the scent out and sit outside by the pool no problems

    Reply
  6. After reading your posting, we tried (P)icaridin on a canoe trip through very buggy northern Quebec last week. The specific product was PiActive, the first Canadian product. It was launched by KUUS in May 2015 and is currently available at Mountain Equipment Co-op and a few other retailers. (P)icaridin is MUCH, MUCH more pleasant to use than DEET and is highly effective but washes off in just a sprinkle of rain or wading through water. Apparently (P)icaridin’s chemical formulation contains more oxygen than DEET which is the reason it is more water soluble. We encountered a horde of hungry biters at a portage just as the skies opened and rain pelted down. At that moment, DEET would definitely have given more protection. We will definitely continue to carry both (P)icaridin and DEET as a back-up in the future.

    Reply
    • Very interesting. None of the references mentioned this – but then how many authors canoe? I had been an avid canoeist with several trips to the Arctic.

      I wonder if sweat also removes (P)icaridin? One problem with DEET is that seat does tend to have it run in the eyes – not so much fun on a long portage.

      Reply
      • One Internet source claimed that (P)icaridin does not sting the eyes, a claim not made in relation to PiActive. I did experience mild stinging, probably less than would have been caused by DEET, when sweat trickled down. We did not encounter sufficient heat and humidity to say whether heavy perspiration would diminish the effectiveness of (P)icaridin.

        Reply
  7. Great post. I tried a lemon grass mixture by a top brand, and it had the after-odor of poop! And it was not the compost or me! Also, when I am vegetarian and eat less fat (and no animal fats) I get far less bites. I think the pesky skeeters pass me by as just another cute tomato!

    Reply
  8. I am a mosquito magnet! They love me. Pretty much looks like I have the chicken pot all summer. So yes, I pretty much used to gargle with DEET. I’m probably going to drop dead any day now. I’ve done the whole lemon oil deal and that’s been pretty effective. I also like tea tree oil for keeping those pests away. And when hiking, I stuff dryer sheets anywhere and everywhere, especially in my socks and I find this highly effective!!!

    Reply

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